The importance of interspecific introgression as a source of adaptive variation is increasingly recognized. Theory predicts that beneficial genetic variants cross species boundaries easily even when interspecific hybridization is rare and gene flow is strongly constrained throughout the genome. However, it remains unclear whether certain classes of genes are particularly prone to adaptive introgression. Genes affected by balancing selection (BS) may constitute such a class, because forms of BS that favour novel, initially rare alleles, should facilitate introgression. We tested this hypothesis in hybridizing newts by comparing 13 genes with signatures of BS, in particular an excess of common non-synonymous polymorphisms, to the genomic background (154 genes). Parapatric hybridizing taxa were less differentiated in BS candidate genes than more closely related allopatric lineages, while the opposite was observed in the control genes. Coalescent and forward simulations that explored neutral and BS scenarios under isolation and migration showed that processes other than differential gene flow are unlikely to account for this pattern. We conclude that BS, probably involving a form of novel allele advantage, promotes introgression. This mechanism may be a source of adaptively relevant variation in hybridizing species over prolonged periods.
Keywords: adaptive introgression; amphibians; balancing selection; hybridization.
© 2018 The Author(s).